College basketball fans, the long wait is finally over, the 2017-2018 college basketball season is upon us and I could not be more pumped. This year features a whole swarm of new young talent such as Marvin Bagley of Duke, Collin Sexton of Alabama and the top freshman of this year’s class, Michael Porter Jr. out of Missouri. We will get into all of them and more as I will break down all of the Power 5 conferences, picking a winner for each. I will also be doing the top 5 teams to watch this year and the top 5 teams that will disappoint and then finally do a bonus preview for the current school I attend. To start, let’s head over to the Big Ten where the competition is always fierce and the atmospheres are electric.
Last year, the story of the Big Ten came from an unexpected hero. The Northwestern Wildcats quickly became America’s sweethearts during last year’s cinderella season. Chris Collins’ team had the most successful year in program history and it resulted in the school clinching their first ever birth to the NCAA tournament. This year they are even more dangerous and I believe this team can make a run come March. They are returning 4 starters which is rare in this day in age, along with a veteran bench. This will be crucial because chemistry is key to success in college basketball. Senior guard Bryant McIntosh is looking to lead this Wildcat team to a Big Ten Conference championship and help them make their second straight NCAA tournament. All this being said, Northwestern is not favored to win the conference this year. Michigan State comes into this season loaded with talent and is a huge favorite to win the Big Ten. 6’7 star Miles Bridges is returning for his sophomore season and last year he proved he was one of the best players in the country. Tom Izzo’s squad also has an array of forwards who are quick and versatile, making this year’s team at least on paper, one of the best Izzo has ever had. I think this will be a two dog race the entire year between the Spartans and Wildcats. There are other notable teams like Purdue and Wisconsin, but I think they are going to be on the outside looking in. I like Michigan State to win this conference by a narrow margin. A team to watch for however in this conference is the Minnesota Golden Gophers led by sophomore guard Amir Coffey. They have one of the best backcourts in the country and could be a surprise team in the Big Ten this year.
Conference Champion: Michigan State
No more Lonzo this year, but that does not mean this conference won’t be wildly entertaining to watch. There are at least 4 teams that could make a run this year at the Pac-12 title, but I think one stands out above the rest. Let’s start with UCLA, they will be hit or miss this year. They lost a lot of key players such as Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford, but are also welcoming new faces to campus such as Lonzo’s brother LiAngelo. They also have a very talented center in Thomas Welsh who will be a force in the paint this season. I have UCLA finishing in the somewhat middle to upper middle of the pack in the conference. I do not think they are talented enough to win the title this year. Another team that will look to compete for a conference title this year is the Oregon Ducks. We all know about their success the last few years and they are quickly starting to become a national power house. This year should be no different. They have an outstanding guard in Ellijah Brown who transferred from the University of New Mexico. Let me tell you something about this kid, he can flat-out score the ball. Expect him to have a huge year and I expect the Ducks to be a heavy contender in this year’s conference. One team that may turn some heads this year is the USC Trojans. The Trojans are coming into the season loaded with young talent and are led by their star junior guard who came on to the scene last year, Bennie Boatwright. I think this Trojans team coached by Andy Enfield will make some noise and is not a team you want to mess with come March. All this aside, this conference is not even going to be a real contest for the top spot. Arizona is just that much better than everybody else. I like Arizona as a Final Four team this year and definitely a national champion candidate. They have Alonzo Trier who is returning for his junior season but is more than NBA ready, have one of the best incoming freshman in the nation in Deandre Ayton, and one of the best coaches in the country, Sean Miller. This team is loaded and if they stay healthy, I expect them to be a top 5 team in the country all year long. BEAR DOWN.
Conference Champion: Arizona
It is no secret that the Big 12 runs through Lawrence. This year the Jayhawks look to win their 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season title which is just a mind-blowing stat when you read it out loud. This year the Jayhawks have plenty of talent to keep this streak alive such as Devonte Graham and a pure scorer in Legerald Vick. I like the Jayhawks to roll this year in conference play and walk straight into their 14th consecutive title. However, I do believe there are two teams that could compete with the Jayhawks this season. I am a real big fan of TCU. Jamie Dixon is a terrific coach and this is a team that can shoot the lights out from outside. Look for the Horned Frogs to make some noise this year. I also think West Virginia is going to have a big season. Their full court press is ferocious and is sure to bring hell to teams this season. Bob Huggins however, said that his team would not be running the full court press the whole game which will be a big change from last year. If West Virginia knew how to close out games last year they would have been conference champions so this team is definitely a contender. I think Iowa State is going to have a decent year along with Baylor and Texas, but I don’t think any team is going to be good enough to beat the Jayhawks. Rock Chalk!
Conference Champions: Kansas
The SEC can be described in two simple words this year; young talent. I can’t even fathom how many loaded freshman are in this conference. Let’s start with Missouri. Missouri fans, along with most basketball fans in the country, are awaiting the debut of the top recruit in America, Michael Porter Jr. This kid is literally a stud. Coming out of Nathan Hale in Washington, the expectations are enormous and Porter is excited to exceed those expectations this season. I expect him to have a huge season and I like Mizzou to be playing in the big dance come March. We then head over to Alabama where they have a pretty talented freshman of their own. Collin Sexton is a 5-star athlete and you will see very quickly how special this young man is. If Sexton plays up to expectation, I can almost assure that he will lead his Crimson Tide to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012. We then head over to Lexington where coach John Calipari is almost spoiled with his young talent this year. Kentucky will be led by a freshman based, two-headed beast. Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox are two of the most talented freshman in the country and the fact that they are playing on the same team is just unfair. I think per usual, the Kentucky Wildcats will run away with this conference.
Conference Champions: Kentucky
Now for the best conference in basketball, the ACC. This year might be the most talented and competitive of a league we have ever seen as there are at least 6 teams that can make a run at the conference title. For starters, you have to talk about the defending national champions, North Carolina. It will be tough for them to repeat last year’s success as they lost some key pieces and are already off to a rough start to the season after their star point guard, Joel Berry broke his hand after losing a video game. I think Carolina will have a sub par season and finish mid pack in the ACC. We than move to South Bend where Mike Brey’s bunch comes in this season with a bunch of promise. Their star forward, Bonzie Colson is returning for his senior season, and will look to lead his team to a conference championship and possibly a late tournament run come March. Then there’s Louisville, the biggest mystery in college basketball. It will be interesting to see how they battle from adversity after the recent firing of their coach, Rick Pitino. Unfortunately, I think this will be a historically bad season for the Cardinals. This program is just a mess and that is going to transpire on the court this year in a big way. Now it’s time to talk about the youngest team in the nation, the most talented team in the nation and the most athletic team in the nation, the Duke Blue Devils. Duke is most likely going to come into the season ranked #1 in the country and for good reason. They are filled with young talent and if this freshman filled team can click, they can be more than dangerous. I expect freshman Trevor Duvaland and Marvin Bagley to have sensational years, along with production from their big red shirt sophomore, Marquese Bolden. This kid is going to be a beast in the paint this year and it will be hard to stop this high-powered offense. Oh yeah I forgot to mention, one of the best scorers in the nation, Grayson Allen is returning for his senior season and is looking to finish his collegiate career on top. I think the sky is the limit for this Duke team chemistry permitting, and I truly believe they will be your 2017-2018 national champions.
Conference Champions: Duke
5 teams to watch
South Dakota State
I know what you’re thinking, who? and why? Well let me tell you something, this is a very talented basketball team and the Jackrabbits have the best player you’ve never heard of. Mike Daum is an elite scorer and coming into his sophomore year, he is expected to continue that success. Last year Daum averaged 25 points a game along with 8 boards per contest, those are big time numbers. Daum led his team to a 2017 Summit League Championship and a ticket to the big dance and they are heavy favorites to repeat as conference champions this season.
Butler has been one of the nations most consistent teams for nearly a decade now and they are the type of team you do not want to run into come tournament time. This year’s team is poised to repeat the same recipe of success. They can shoot, they are really quick and have a wildly talented center in Kamar Baldwin. The only problem that this team might face is that they are coming into the year with a brand new HC. Lavall Jordan however, seems to be up to the task and knows how high the expectation is for Butler basketball. I think if this team can start to click at the right time, they are a Sweet 16 contender.
Oh the Shockers, each year they dominate in the regular season and come into the tournament as a high seed and seem to always disappoint. This year’s team is different however. The Shockers are loaded coming into the season and I think they are an Elite 8 team easily and maybe a Final 4 team. Sophomore Landry Shamet is coming off of a phenomenal freshman season and is considered to be a top 15 player in the nation. However, Shamet is coming off of an ankle injury and could possibly miss the first month of the season. Greg Marshall is a tremendous head coach and you can assure that he will have his team ready to compete this season. Markis McDuffie, another star for the Shockers, could also miss time after fracturing his foot last year. If this team can get healthy, they are one of the best teams in the country but health is going to be the biggest concern for this team.
Gonzaga perhaps is the best college basketball team outside the power 5. Villanova can be considered a close second but Gonzaga has been more consistent for the last decade and the expectation has become “Championship or bust” in Spokane. Last year was the most successful year in the program’s history as they made it to their first ever Final Four, eventually losing in the National Championship to North Carolina. The question now becomes can they do it again this year. I don’t think so, but Gonzaga is a Sweet 16 caliber team. The Zags are going to depend on production from center Jacob Larson and senior guard Josh Perkins. The Zags lost a lot of talent last year so it will be interesting to see how Mark Few’s team produces this season and fills in the gaps. All this being said, I do not think the Zags are the best team in the West Coast Conference this year……….
Saint Mary’s is the most underrated team in the entire country folks. I think they are better than Gonzaga, and will win the WCC. I think they will go to the tourney and this team is talented enough to make the Final 4. They have a stud center from Australia in Jock Landale who can score with efficiency and protect the rim like no other. Saint Mary’s also has a fifth year senior in Calvin Hermanson, so the experience and leadership will be there in a big way. Watch out for the Gaels this year.
5 Teams That Will Disappoint
Louisville’s basketball program is a complete mess and there’s no two ways about it. They are without legendary 16 year head coach, Rick Pitino. They also have this huge stormy cloud which is a scandal hanging over their historic programs head. To ask these student athletes to perform well this season is just an unrealistic expectation. Sometimes in life, adversity is too much to overcome and I think this is just the case here. I think this team wins 12 games at most and that’s only because they will start the year playing teams such as Road Beef State and Joe Schmoe University. Who knows, maybe in a few years due to this scandal, Louisville basketball will be a thing of the past.
This Indiana team is a huge mystery this season. Archie Miller, former Dayton head coach and brother of Arizona head coach, Sean Miller, is set to make his Indiana coaching debut on Nov 10th against Indiana St. This team on paper is very talented. They have an extremely talented senior guard, Robert Johnson who will undoubtingly be looked at to be the team’s leader this year. They also are expected to have an above average defense and a team who shoots at a high percentage. Now I’m not saying Indiana is going to suck, I just do not see it all coming together and am expecting a sub par season from the Hoosiers.
The last two years at least in the regular season has been magical for the Monmouth Hawks. Putting their small school on the map with some help from the bench mob, the Hawks have had a fun run to say the least. Unfortunately the last two seasons have resulted in a failed attempt to win the MAAC tournament and go to the big dance. I think they had their two years to dance but that small window is closed. One of the best players in Monmouth school history, Justin Robinson, is no longer with the team after graduating and I think the Hawks success graduated to. I like Monmouth to have a .500 season at best and once again, they will fail to make the NCAA tournament.
Last year was a tough year for the NC State Wolf pack. They fired their head coach and finished the year with a 5-13 record in conference play. This year however, the expectations are very high. The Wolfpack have a good recruiting class coming in along with an energetic new coach in Kevin Keatts. Unfortunately, they lost forward Abdul-Malik Abu to a knee injury and he is expected to miss most of the season if not all of it. I think the ACC is going to be way too competitive this year and expect coach Keatts to have a rough first season.
This is perhaps Mike White’s most talented team as he heads into his 3rd season as Gator head coach, and this team has huge expectations coming into this season. Essentially their entire team is back and after making the Elite 8 last year, anything less would be a bust. All this hype is exactly why I think they will fall this year. The SEC is chock full of young, freshman talent and every team is gunning for the top. I think the only team that can fight off every team in the SEC is Kentucky who I have going to the Final Four. I still think Florida will have a good season and most likely make the Sweet 16, but I do not think they will meet up to full expectations.
So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed my full college basketball preview with predictions but before I go I want to give one more team to watch for.
You thought I was going to go through this whole piece without talking about my own school? Well guess again. The Rider Broncs come into this season with high expectations and are led by head coach, Kevin Baggett who truly has become one of the best coaches in the MAAC if not for the entire country. This year’s Broncs team is very young and will look to make some noise come conference play. I look for sophomore guard Stevie Jordan and freshman guard Jordan Allen to lead the team this year. If this team gets hot at the right time and can build up chemistry, who knows, maybe they will be dancing come March for the 4th time in school history.